Posted by Greg Giddens
On our journey through Proteus, we witnessed history, mythology, nature, industry, death, ascension, and enlightenment. We experienced all of these things, but there's a chance that you may not, because part of the appeal of the release is that it's entirely subjective. As such, this is one of the most thought-provoking titles on the market, and its pixel aesthetic, solid block pastel colours, and its dreamy music only serve to facilitate that.
This game is everything that you want to experience and yet virtually devoid of experience at the same time. Its only constants are the visuals and sound, with bright colours depicting a mysterious island filled with pixel flora and fauna, and audio that adapts depending on the time of day, season, weather, and what you're looking at. These are the only guarantees during a playthrough, as the aforementioned discoveries are dependent on your exploration, imagination, and interpretation.
Each time that you play the campaign, you'll emerge from the ocean on a randomly generated island. The rudimentary, blocky pixel constructs – which you observe from a first-person perspective – represent vegetation, animals, graves, cabins, ominous towers, and totems, but their form is ambiguous enough to require a little imagination from you. You don't interact with these elements, but the island reacts to you. Animals will scurry, jump, and fly away as you approach. Plants will shrink back into their buds. The wind will blow hard and shake leaves from their trees. The rain will envelop you, its pitter-patter muffling the music. The world is alive, despite its aesthetic.
As you examine each element of the landscape, you'll notice that the music changes as you encounter new things and as the island goes about its natural cycle. But if you choose to sit with a tap of the X button then you can simply observe the scenery, watching wondrous light shows in the sky, the stars peaking out as the sun sets, with the clouds swimming overhead. You can watch curious animals peaking from behind trees, and smile as frogs leap nearby and generate a musical tone each time they pass by.
Hold down the circle button and you'll gradually close your eyes and return to the title screen, where you can choose to jump back into the game and experience a new island. The cabin, the totems, and the other landmarks will still be present, but in different locations. Eventually you'll notice shimmering lights in the woods. Follow them and find their source and you'll be thrust through time to the next season. The game always starts in spring, and if you continue to explore, you'll soon reach winter and the title's "conclusion".
Proteus is about exploration. Proteus is about discovery. Proteus is about sounds. But primarily Proteus is about you. In essence, it's like going for a spiritual walk in a wonderful world.
In terms of functionality, the PlayStation Vita version can obtain your location in order to generate a custom island, while the PlayStation 3 release performs a similar trick using the system's date and time. Anyone playing in the exact same location or at an identical time can experience the same island, providing a clever sense of shared experience without actual multiplayer. On the handheld, you can also use the gyro sensor to act as your viewpoint, and both versions sport a postcard feature, which allows you to take a screenshot that's saved to your system and allows you to re-enter the world at an identical moment whenever you choose. Think of it like storing memories.
Proteus is a unique exploration title that demands very little skill but a great deal of imagination. It's both lively and lifeless at the same time, and its appeal will be very much determined by your mood. Its lack of structure and limited interactivity will undoubtedly deter some types of players – but the title's beautifully crafted and bizarrely empowering all the same. It all depends on whether you're open to the idea of something new.